Storytelling in Motion Sneak Peek: “Catharsis”

Written by Denise Mosley-Moore

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s (PBT) first production of the 2022-2023 season is Storytelling in Motion, a mixed repertoire showcase of contemporary ballet. Storytelling in Motion features PBT’s own Principal Dancer Yoshiaki Nakano’s Catharsis, a world premiere that celebrates the transformative power of human connection and community support. 


“I’m so grateful to choreograph with dancers I know because I can connect with them. I can relate to them,” Nakano explained. “I know them. I know how they dance,” he continued. This is Nakano’s fifth commissioned mainstage work for the PBT Company.


When describing his choreographic process, Nakano expressed, “I always start with music. The music always inspires me.” Nakano’s initial inspiration for Catharsis was “Moonlight Sonata: Adagio,” a rearrangement and performance by Maya Beiser that is based upon Beethoven’s solo “Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp Minor, Op. 27, No. 2: Sonata quasi una fantasia.” Beiser’s rendition features a very prevalent heartbeat, which Nakano says he “fell in love with” when he heard it for the first time. “If you strip everything, we are bones, muscles, and organs. So, the heartbeat is the center of humans,” explains Nakano.


Catharsis consists of four movements that shed light on the human capacity to connect through shared values, authenticity, support and empathy. Viewers will be entranced by the progressively deeper connections the dancers make throughout the piece as dancers layer the tenderly expressive, yet demanding choreography with increasingly greater levels of human connection through touch, emotion and eye contact.


The first movement reveals a striking disconnection between a group of dancers who move in unison with crisp, hypnotizing choreography while three soloists discreetly separate from the group to demonstrate feelings of loneliness that we as humans often feel in the midst of others.  In the second movement Masahiro Haneji and Josiah Kauffman command the stage with heart-wrenching solos emoting the feelings of intense isolation and frustration they feel for being unseen and unheard by the rest of the group. There is a glimmer of hope for reconnection when solo dancers Hannah Carter and JoAnna Schmidt gracefully depart from the group and seemingly glide across the stage to re-engage Masahiro and Josiah with a gentle touch to their faces. 


In the third movement of Catharsis Hannah and JoAnna inspire a deeper connection among the rest of the group through touch as well. The women are joined by three other dancers who anchor them through what seems like an endless, yet seemingly effortless series of breathtaking and extremely demanding lifts. The piece crescendos with the fourth and final movement that Nakano describes as “much brighter, more contemporary and neoclassical” in contrast to the first three movements. For the first time in the piece, the dancers begin to exchange eye contact, which Nakano believes to be a critical and healing component of human connection.  “Humans are social beings,” he says. “We all need support,” Nakano adds.


When asked what he’d like the audience to feel when they witness the world premiere of Catharsis, Nakano explains that he wants the audience to appreciate the beauty of this choreography while being reminded that although they may feel lonely at times, they are never truly alone. “You can find someone who relates to you and you can be yourself there.”

Make sure to see Catharsis, along with two other innovative, contemporary pieces — Nacho Duato’s Duende and Helen Pickett’s The Exiled — at Storytelling in Motion, running Oct. 7-9 at the August Wilson African American Cultural Center! Check out the preview video here.

Photography: Aviana Adams

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